That little speck in the distance is Brazilian surfer Carlos Burle, riding the storm surge off Nazaré, Portugal, a spot already notorious for big waves. Burle's might have been the biggest ever, but it wasn't even his biggest accomplishment of the day; He also saved a life.
Early reports from yesterday's competition have Burle's wave as high as 100 feet. Wave heights tend to be exaggerated, but even if you knock off a few feet, that would still shatter the current mark of 78 feet, caught by Garrett McNamara off the same Nazaré beach in 2011. McNamara was in attendance yesterday, but decided not to ride. "It was too big for me," he said. "I didn't feel safe."
Burle went for it. It was tough going. Though riders were being towed in by jet ski, Burle managed to catch only a single wave all day. It was a monster:
Burle gave an interview to Stab Magazine, and didn't want to vouch for any record-setting height...but he knew it was big.
Did it feel like The Big One? Yes. There was so much room to move on the wave. So much space above me and below me.
It might have been the biggest wave ever ridden! Have you seen the vision? Yes. If you do that test, when you get a whole bunch of surfers stacked one on top of another, it looks like it might be one of the biggest ever. I don’t want to be the one who calls it. It’s hard to tell. Someone else can tell me how big it was (laughs).
Think it might have been 100 foot? I don’t know – it’s not impossible. There was a lot of space on that wave. I don’t know how big it was. It was bigger than Garrett’s wave last year; that we can see clearly. Whatever the case or the size I am just very lucky, I’m happy to have been in the spot at the time. We have Garrett to thank. He introduced the big wave world to Nazare. He’s happy to share his knowledge as well, which is great. Garrett’s the man.
But a day that ended with what might be a record barely avoided tragedy early on. Maya Gabeira, a good friend of Burle's, wiped out and was knocked unconscious. Burle, manning the jet ski, came to her aid but was thwarted multiple times as he first attempted to load her onto the rescue sled, then get her to grab onto a tow rope. But Gabeira was weak and groggy and kept being forced under by the surf.
Finally Burle jumped off the jet ski and was able to drag Gabeira to shore.
Burle explains his terror at not being able to find Gabeira for five minutes, then coming across her facedown in the water.
I lost her man. I couldn’t find her. It was the worst situation I have ever been in. We were on the left side, heading for the shorebreak and it was so big, the biggest shorebreak you have ever seen in your life. Then I saw her again but this time she was floating face down. She was heading for the rocks. It was terrible. The worst situation I have ever faced. I raced up to her, jumped off the ski and grabbed her. I couldn’t let her go. Maya might just be the most badass woman in surfing. Bravo for holding on.
Did it just wash you in? It was so strong. The waves were so big and it was a shorebreak. We got slammed. So scary. We got lucky. I got lucky. We got to the beach. I don’t know how, but we made it to the beach.
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Gabeira was taken to the hospital, where she's listed in stable condition with a broken ankle. She posted this photo to Facebook, with the partial caption, "My dear friends, a broken ankle. Nothing more... Some salt water, but you know! I just need some prayer for a speedy recovery!!! Love u all."
Once it was clear that Gabeira would be all right, Burle somehow managed to get back in the lineup and, perhaps, make a bit of history.